Alternative Iconoclasm: The Essence of Revolution in the Revolution

Politics is just show business for ugly people.
Jay Leno
Image: Anonymous ART of Revolution

The title might misidentify this write-up as a review. In Revolution in the Revolution?, Régis Debray, the French author, wrote elaborately on the revolutionary movements in Latin America. However, this article—taking its essence from the book—concerns with a theory of alternative iconoclasm in the 21st century, specifically relating to my hometown where ceaseless armed conflicts have ravaged the region for the last six decades and more.

For starters, this was what Jean Paul-Sartre, the other legendary Frenchman, had to say about the Debray’s book: ‘Régis Debray has been arrested by the Bolivian authorities, not for having participated in guerrilla activities but for having written a book, Revolution in the Revolution?—which “removes all the brakes from guerrilla activities”.’

The intention of this piece is succinctly mentioned in one of the lines of Martin Glaberman’s review of the book: ‘(Debray) wants the total defeat of American Imperialism in Latin America; he will not accept any reformist compromise.’ (Note: You can read the e-book and a full-length review online; see the links mentioned below.)

Debray will not accept any reformist compromise. Replacing the subject, we get: We will not accept any reformist compromise. This is it.

This statement could lose in the cacophony of the prevailing chaotic conditions of Manipur. Nobody listens to anybody and everybody does whatever s/he likes. From the lowest echelon of the society to the highest, in a place where authority is only known for high-handedness and effeteness, we have to fend for ourselves whenever there is a common issue. Sometimes when we take laws into our hands, it is no more a crime but a necessity.

Common people, government agencies, civil society organisations, armed militant parties, student organisations, frontal groups and all the institutions and associations of sundry bits and pieces are in total mess. This has left us with very little options. So here, we are making a declaration: We need a revolution in the revolution and we cannot accept any reformist compromise.   

Pro-states are of the view that the authority should be dominant, albeit rationally by performing its social contract responsibilities. Otherwise, the religious opportunists, mercenaries and the association of gangs will fill the vacuum. This explains well how the province of Manipur has been faring or, more appropriately, failing in this new millennium. On one hand, the feudal lords are making the calls, for New Delhi can easily afford to maintain a cheap, pathetic and self-interested ruling class; and on the other, the armed gangs are having a field day; while the society has hit rock bottom in decadence and we are still digging deeper; and the list goes on.

Fire-starter: things to set ablaze

iconoclasm /ʌɪˈkɒnəklaz(ə)m/

1 the action of attacking or assertively rejecting cherished beliefs and institutions or established values and practices.

2 the rejection or destruction of religious images as heretical; the doctrine of iconoclasts.

Throughout history, iconoclasm has always been hyphenated with religion and significantly, it has often been tagged with those of the Byzantine empire, in which the tradition of worshipping idols was replaced with the usage of crosses. Literature shows, in this empire, the wave of destroying icons took place in two phases: between 726–787CE and 815–843CE. That’s a Christian story and we are least bothered about it, except the fact that many Jesus-worshipping hill dwellers of the province are on the same boat after being caught haplessly in several socio-political issues, albeit with reasons ranging well beyond religion. Quite a Constantinopolic crisis it is.
In these days of global terrorism, it is easy to get ourselves labelled with the tag of terrorists. The dominant class always win—for instance, there will never be a white terrorist or closer home, a mainland Indian terrorist. And us, by all counts, we are at one of the lowest strata and are always at the receiving end. This is one reason why we need to look into the concept of alternative iconoclasm.

Alternative iconoclasm is beyond religion. In another word, it offers a replacement to the existing filthy condition by turning the garbage dump upside down, cleaning the mess and restarting from point zero. To quote Mao Tse-tung, revolution is not a dinner party. But again, we do not depend on Maoist or Marxist thoughts to guide us, neither right-wing or conservative ideologies to influence us. Alternative iconoclasm is an independent thought with informed estimations. Here is a list of entities that have no place in the present society.
  •          The State Assembly building
  •          Electoral politics/ruling class
  •          Police/army/security forces
  •          Social movements ranging from daily protests to armed struggle
  •          Protest modes: sit-ins, general strike, blockades
  •          Ras Leela/the Palace Temple
  •          Paona Bazaar and Thangal Bazaar
  •          Traditions and past
  •          People with Singh/Devi in their names
First thing first. The Manipur state assembly building is an epitome of the arrogant yet spineless government of the day. If the building is the icon of the government, incompetence is the hallmark of the representatives who call themselves the members of legislative assembly. The best thing about the building is its mediocre architecture in the heart of the town. Yet it is for everybody to see how much flies fly around this filth, this illusion, which has been passed off as a mark of material development in the forbidden land. Its destruction will mark the death of an icon of the hopeless authority. It will be more effective if we get rid of all the governmental institutions too but it is a given once the head is cut off, the bodies will follow automatically. Fortunately, it will set off a new beginning for every good reason. 

Democracy can be such a farce. If only a bit of its grand idea was alive, the union government has killed it by imposing several black laws. Its simplification of being for, of and by the people has given it more credit than how it exists in reality. It is not simple as it sounds. Alternatively, electoral politics does not ensure that people will get a good leader. Rather, it has only created a mass of brain-dead people amongst a very few groups of sycophants and power-hungry, honourable members, who would not mind selling off their spouses and children, as long as they see that they would get the chance to loot the public exchequer.

If we consider the case in Manipur, electoral politics seem to be the only marker of democracy, which is ironically further marred by state terrorism openly. Where do people air their grievances in such a society? —with hackneyed and lazy approach of demanding their resignation through unreadable press releases and newspaper stories? This is no time for complaining; we have had it enough and time tells the solution lies only when these abstract ideas of democracy and electoral politics are uprooted for good. In so doing, we will lose nothing in their demise but merely the pathetic ruling class, which depends on New Delhi for its existence and what we will further gain, is peace, freedom and justice.

For today, those ideals are almost an impossible dream. Even the living experience has been turned into a nightmare by a group of gun-slinging thugs, or police and army, whose sole legality lies in the fact that they work for and under the state. How are they different from the highway robbers and extortionists? Pretty nothing much, if we recall the activities they have been involved in: shooting people dead randomly, being caught for hurling grenades at private residences and all the possible antisocial activities. Besides, as in other parts of the globe and more pathetically in lawless regions, they are only good as a guard for the ruling class.  

If we go by the records, the government has company in spreading vulgarity: it is none other than us, the people, who supposedly elected it for a ridiculous specific time. Society is people and the tantrum of alternative iconoclasm is not directed toward the people but our stupidities. There ought to be effective ways to allow us see the light.

Joining among the special list of assembly building, electoral politics, democracy and police, is the miscellaneous social movements, which are one of our stupidities. If we have to rank the most ridiculous social movements, sit-in-protests will definitely occupy the top spot. This mode of protest is the carbon-copy of how we have become the living dead in a land of zombies.

From the daily protests to the fight for the right to self-determination, we are quite fed up. So now, we are going to crash-land at point zero and start afresh so these purported movements will become redundant instantly. The ending of these campaigns will be a treat to our eyes and senses. The domino effect, hopefully, will be felt on never-ending general strikes and blockades that we have become so inured to.

Political and social entities are related to every moments of our existence. Add to them we also have cultural and economic systems that share a direct correlation. We have the tragedy of having a foreign product as the cultural icons of our time. Consider the Ras Leela and the palace temple, the latter is always mentioned as Govindaji Temple among the places-to-visit-in-Manipur columns in travel guidebooks. We were delighted only when we read about these hotspots in high school but these have turned out to be a hoax. All of these should die a natural death.

In their expiry, there will be a birth of new images because that is just the natural law. When one departs, another arrives. In its destruction, perhaps the fake people filled with even more fake pride will challenge it. It is not certain, though, how fake would their dispute be. They are the conformist lot and it is most likely that they will join the new system, in the post-iconoclasm days, with no effort for they have been naturally programmed to be obedient and accept the things as they are.

The other supporters and patrons would say, for example, that the Ras Leela is indigenous and has its root in Manipur. Let these admirers fantasise about the weeklong orgy, dress themselves as Krishnas and gopis and head for Nabadwip and Vrindavan—with the Krishna as an icon of great libido and his gopis as that of fetishism. Elsewhere in other parts of the world, this kind of orgy has been popularised as group sex and bukkake and these are gaining ground thanks to the Internet. These supporters might as well rename their dance of divine love and lust to make it more original when they reach Nabadwip.

Back home we have more entities to bid farewell to. We do not have to be proud of owning all the worst-case examples of a failed society and worst lived experiences.

Next on the list is the city centre. For the sake of convenience, the term city has been retained though ours is just a miserable town. By definition, a city centre is the heart of an economy. If we look into ours, it exists merely because of historical default and nothing else. The filthy Paona Bazaar and Thangal Bazaar will provide, in their destruction, an aesthetic enhancement of a space that would inspire us to look beyond the crap-filled alleys and barricaded streets and to build a new image of our collective live. We are going to start right from the centre.   

A beginning means a new start. It cannot be a transformation for that would entail just the continuation of the old, in the proverbial old-wine-in-a-new-bottle manner. In the same breath, tradition is just the antithesis of progress. Besides, if we chuck off a hell lot of it, we are only going to become more authentic and rooted. For instance, our rituals are chanted in strange languages and the long-winding ceremonies are often rip-offs from other faiths and beliefs. Nothing is static in life anyway, and we are just evolving in a conscious way by doing away with these craps from faraway lands. While we are there clearing the mess, we might as well build a zoo for those people who use Singhs and Devis as suffixes in their names.    

Destruction as solution

In a way, the motives are beyond popular beliefs of iconoclasm. It is even better this way because we desperately need a revolution and an ideal one in that. Destroy all the existing institutions, which create the images of our time and society that are as obnoxious as the most barbaric living condition. The only caveat is in foolhardy demolition of entities that may be dear to us yet it is most likely that the true and worthwhile entities will survive—for a truly meaningful entity will live on, no matter what the conflict is. Our existential crisis must not continue forever and we need a new and different space to grow and evolve. That is the main issue, and not the maintenance of a defunct society and its faulty parts that have been existing for mere namesake.

Armed conflict in the region started with the birth of India. It will be naïve to believe in the nationalist’s claim of being an ancient civilisation. The Mughals and the British created the India we know of and we become India not by choice but by chance. All along, the nation-builders nor their successors have never admitted it but is has been quite an open secret how the foundation of a nation had been laid on arrogance and prejudice. Alternative iconoclasm is the answers to all the questions of deception and our hopelessness.

Finally we are a lethargic lot. We always need a hard push—sometimes the death of a number of young lives to voice the worries about territorial integrity, a violent general strike to make a point to the authority, extreme humiliation of a criminal but never those wealthy ringmasters, and so on. Alternative iconoclasm is not a reactive approach; rather it is a proactive shot that aims to end all of these eyesores and social cancers.        


Image: Anonymous ART of Revolution

Reading time


Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005)
by Jared M. Diamond

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (2012)
by Daron Acemoglu, James A Robinson

Read the unabridged e-book: Revolution in the Revolution? (Armed Struggle and Political Struggle in Latin America)
by Régis Debray!/SugahData/Books/Debray.S.pdf  from Freedom Archives,

Régis Debray: Revolution without a Revolution by Martin Glaberman 1968, Source: Speak Out, (April 1968), Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg from Marxists’ Internet Archive,

Full text of Open Veins of Latin America
by Eduardo Galeano from Internet Archive,

Dramatic Social Change: A Social Psychological Perspective
by Roxane de la Sablonnière, Laura French Bourgeoisa, Mariam Najihb from Global Social Change Reports,

Why Does a Society Develop the Way It Does? 
by Gene Shackman, Ya-Lin Liu and George (Xun) Wang from Journal of Social and Political Psychology,


‘Revolution in the Revolution’: A Perspective of Che Guevara’s Writing

The Revolution Will Not Be Militarised

The Long Marches of Different People

Reality Bites: The Possibility of Ending Democracy

Democracy in the Theatre of the Absurd—and the Futility of Election



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